Rugby union in the United States

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Rugby union in the United States
Rugby USA.jpg
Air Force and Navy playing a match hosted by the Alamo City RFC (2006)
Country United States
Governing body USA Rugby
National team United States
Nickname(s) Eagles
First played 1875, Boston–McGill v. Harvard
Registered players 119,812 (total)
Clubs 2,673[1]
National competitions
Audience records
Single match 62,300
(5 November 2016)
Ireland vs New Zealand
(Soldier Field, Chicago)

Rugby union in the United States is a growing national sport. Rugby union at the youth, high school, college, club, and international levels is governed by USA Rugby. There are over 115,000 players registered with USA Rugby.[2] Over 2500 rugby clubs exist around the country, with college rugby being the most popular.


Flint Rogues vs. Michigan RFC

Rugby union was first introduced to the United States in the mid nineteenth century and gained popularity throughout the late nineteenth century. However, it started to decline from the early 1900s.[3] The U.S. won the gold medal in rugby at the 1920 Olympics and again at the 1924 Olympics, but rugby collapsed in the country after the 1924 Olympics. Rugby did not re-emerge in the US until its renaissance in the 1960s and 1970s.[citation needed] The United States of America Rugby Football Union (now known as USA Rugby) was formed in 1975.

There are several high-profile rugby competitions in the U.S. The USA Sevens is held every February at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, and draws over 60,000 fans and is broadcast on NBC. The U.S national team hosts international matches every June, with attendances around 20,000. The Collegiate Rugby Championship is held every June at Talen Energy Stadium in the Philadelphia suburb of Chester, Pennsylvania, and draws around 20,000 fans and is broadcast on NBC.

The United States men's national rugby team, the Eagles, has competed in all but one of the Rugby World Cup tournaments held every four years since 1987. The U.S. national team plays home matches every June, both in the Pacific Nations Cup and international test matches. The United States is a Tier 2 rugby nation, which means that it is not currently competitive at the elite level of the sport, but is one of World Rugby's key development markets.[4] The U.S. also fields a team in the Americas Rugby Championship; a USA "A" national team participated in the original version of the competition, and the full national team is competing in a revamped version that is launching in 2016.

USA Rugby fields other national teams. The men's national rugby sevens team has been a "core team" that has participated in every tournament since 2008 of the annual World Rugby Sevens Series. The women's national team has reached the quarterfinals of every Women's Rugby World Cup, and won the inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup in 1991. The women's national sevens team is one of the core teams in the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, which has included a tournament in the U.S. since its first season in 2012–13.[5] The U.S. tournament was held in Houston in the 2012–13 season, and since then has been held in the Atlanta suburb of Kennesaw, Georgia.


Early history: 1800s[edit]

Early American footballs were essentially rugby balls, later redesigned to make them easier to throw.[6]

Princeton students played a game called "ballown" as early as 1820. A Harvard tradition known as "Bloody Monday" began in 1827, which consisted of a mass ballgame between the freshman and sophomore classes. Dartmouth played its own version called "Old division football", the rules of which were first published in 1871, though the game dates to at least the 1830s. All of these games, and others, shared certain commonalities. They remained largely "mob" style games, with huge numbers of players attempting to advance the ball into a goal area, often by any means necessary. Rules were simple and violence and injury were common.[7][8] The violence of these mob-style games led to widespread protests and a decision to abandon them. Yale, under pressure from the city of New Haven, banned the play of all forms of football in 1860, while Harvard followed suit in 1861.[7]

The sport of rugby union in the United States has always had a close relationship with the sport of American football. Initially, games of rugby, soccer, and hybrid games had been played between American universities. Primitive forms of rugby, then all covered by the name "football", were being played in the USA as far back as the 1840s, at Harvard, Yale and Princeton, stemming partly from Americans who had been educated in English schools.[3] However, in 1862, Yale dealt it a major blow by banning it for being too violent and dangerous, about seven years later, in 1869, the first game of College football was played between Princeton and Rutgers.[3] However, rugby was taking a firm grip of the Ivy League and other East Coast Universities, where it would have an influence on the nascent gridiron, which later became its major competitor.[3] Unfortunately American football's growth came at exactly the point at which rugby was beginning to establish itself in the States.[3]

Rugby spread through America's colleges, away from the Ivy League and the East Coast, into Texas, California and other west coast states.[3] However, because of America's huge size, this resulted in a bipolar game, played mainly in east and west, but not really in the middle – other than Illinois and the Great Lakes, and Texas in the south.[3] There would also come to be a small rugby playing centre in Salt Lake City, as Polynesian Mormons came to study and live there, and to a lesser extent by returning missionaries.[3]

In 1872, rugby clubs were established in the San Francisco Bay Area, composed mainly of British expatriates.

The first recorded rugby match in the United States occurred on May 14, 1874 between Harvard University and McGill University.

In 1876, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia formed the Intercollegiate Football Association, a competition based on the traditional rules of rugby union. Around the same time, the aforementioned British rugby players of San Francisco introduced rugby to the University of California, Berkeley.

Olympics achievements: 1900–1924[edit]

The Stanford University team that played the All Blacks in 1913.

One factor aiding in rugby's growth in the early 1900s was American football's crisis of 1905-06, with President Teddy Roosevelt engaging in a debate about the future of American football in response to the perception that American football was a violent sport.[9]

The growth of rugby in the United States and particularly in California was aided by the 1905 New Zealand national team, known as the "Originals", playing three matches in the U.S. in early 1906—one exhibition match in New York, and two exhibition matches in California against teams from British Columbia.[3][10] Apart from the high standard of rugby in various parts of Canada, it was not uncommon for Australian and New Zealand sides to play games in the USA – especially California and New York – when returning from Europe, or when European teams made the trip the other way.[3]

Some west coast colleges—including the flagship University of California, Stanford University, and Santa Clara—abandoned their American football programs in favor of rugby.[9] The "Big Game" American football rivalry between Cal and Stanford was played as a rugby match instead of American football from 1906 to 1914 (1906 was notable for being the first year that American football had legalized the forward pass, a system that would become a distinguishing characteristic in the American game that is not present in rugby).[11][12] Rugby union grew on the West Coast, and as many as 26,000 spectators regularly attended matches between the University of California and Stanford University.[citation needed] During this era, rugby was perceived as having the potential to challenge American football as the dominant football code on the west coast.[9]

The unfamiliar and complex game play hampered rugby's initial growth on the East Coast. Controversy arose in 1905 when published photographs of a rugby match between Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania were used to depict rugby as a "harsh game".

In 1908 and 1909, the Australian national team visited the U.S. as part of an international tour, playing university teams and an all-California side.

In 1910, a combined Universities rugby team comprising mostly players from Cal, Stanford, and the University of Nevada went on a tour of Australia and New Zealand. The underdog American side upset both Rotorua RFC and Auckland RU,[citation needed] which came as a great surprise to the international rugby community. In 1910, D.W. Wheeler of the University of California wrote that "rugby throughout the state is on the boom," with five out of six San Francisco high schools having taken up rugby.[13]

The 1920 USA rugby team, gold medal at the 1920 Summer Olympics.

In 1912, the Australian national team returned to America; this tour was the first and only America-specific tour by Australia to date. Stanford University defeated the Australian national team 13-12 on 16 October 1912, with the San Francisco Examiner declaring that the win had "raised America to a position among the first-class rugby nations."[10] Australia's 1912 tour of the United States saw the United States national team play their first international test against Australia.[citation needed] The United States performed well, holding a lead in the second half, before losing 12–8.[9] The San Francisco Chronicle declared that "America has arrived on the international map" and predicted that the U.S. "will be looking down upon all the other nations in a few more years."[9]

After a promising start on the international stage, the Americans were thrashed 51–3 a year later by a strong All Blacks side. This test was organized by former Cal president Benjamin Ide Wheeler in an attempt to popularize rugby among his students.

By 1915, rugby in California was already beginning to decline.[10] The University of California returned to American football in 1915-1916.[9] Once the University of California returned to American football, a number of local schools quickly followed.[10]

The vastness of the USA has resulted in the rise of regional "Conferences", where the East and West played as different blocs.[when?][3] Hawaii and Alaska led completely separate rugby existences, focusing their energy on their South Seas, and British Columbian neighbors instead.[3] Until recently this vastness also caused problems in the preparation of a national team, as the players would rarely get to meet one another.[3]

France playing the USA in the 1924 Olympics.

The U.S. national team won their first test in 1919, defeating Romania.

Rugby union was a fixture at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, and a United States team composed largely of players from Stanford University and coached by Dan Carroll defeated France to win the gold medal, after money was raised in San Francisco to send them to Europe.[10]

In 1924, rugby union was again included in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. An American side was invited to participate, and the team surprised spectators by landing a place in the final with the hosts – the French. An estimated 50,000 turned up to Colombes Stadium to watch. The United States defeated France for the gold in 1924. This was, however, the last time until 2016 when rugby featured at the Olympics, and the last ever for the full 15-man version of the game (the return of rugby in 2016 was in the sevens version). As a result, the 1924 United States team is the last to win gold in the full version of rugby union. Rare vintage footage of the 1924 Gold Medal match was included in the rugby documentary, A Giant Awakens: the Rise of American Rugby.

Modern history (1960s–present)[edit]

Rugby began its revival in the United States in the late 1950s and into the 1960s and 1970s, as many colleges started club rugby teams. Rugby began getting some coverage in the media, including in the New York Times, when 1958 Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins played for Oxford against Cambridge in 1959.[14] The first rugby sevens tournament in the U.S. was played during Thanksgiving weekend in 1959 in New York with eight teams from various northeast colleges.[14]

USA Rugby, the body that governs rugby in the U.S., was founded in 1975. On 31 January 1976, the U.S. national team played Australia—in its first official match since the 1924 Olympics—before 7,000 fans at Glover Field in Los Angeles.[citation needed] In 1980, USA Rugby formed a college national championship tournament. In 1987, the U.S. national team participated in the inaugural Rugby World Cup. The U.S. women's national team was officially formed in 1987. The Rugby Super League, a nationwide club competition, was played from 1996 to 2012. From 2003 to 2011, the U.S. national team played in the Churchill Cup, with the U.S. hosting matches from 2006 to 2010. The U.S. men's national rugby sevens team has participated in the World Rugby Sevens Series each year since the tournament's founding in 1999, and the women's national sevens team has participated in the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series since the competition's launch in 2012. Rugby in the U.S. received a significant boost in 2009 when the International Olympic Committee voted to reinstate rugby into the Summer Olympics beginning in 2016. In 2014, the United States hosted the New Zealand national team before a record sellout crowd of 60,000+ at Soldier Field in Chicago, a match later billed as potentially marking the rise of American rugby.[15] In 2016, PRO Rugby is planning to establish the first fully professional Rugby competition in the U.S. Also in that year, the English top-flight club London Irish took a home match against Saracens to the Red Bull Arena in the New York area, marking the first top-flight English match ever held outside that country.

Rugby and American football[edit]

"The Pirates", a college football team of 1879.

Rugby has had a long and complicated relationship with American football. William Gunmere of Rutgers devised the game, and based it upon American forms of rugby and association football.[3] Another important point is that during the 19th century, the United States was trying to develop a new national culture, independent of its English colonial roots, as it had become politically independent the previous century. This extended into the sporting arena, with the adoption and invention of American football and basketball, and also the myth of Abner Doubleday founding baseball, which attempted to divorce it from its English origins.

Unlike football, rugby has established itself through the United States via its colleges and universities.[3]

By the end of the 19th century, rugby's American offspring had outgrown its parent within America, and many young Americans who would have made good rugby players were steered into American football instead.

Nonetheless, some of rugby's legacy can be seen in American football to this day, including its prolate spheroid football, rucking, and elevated goalposts of similar width. Major differences include higher tackles than rugby, protective equipment, and forward passing. The fair catch kick is a relic of the now obsolete goal from mark. The scoring systems have evolved parallel, with both rugby union and American football offering three points for a kicked goal and seven points for a ball run into the end zone and a successfully kicked conversion.

Governing bodies[edit]

See also: USA Rugby
A club match at Towson University in 2005.

Rugby union played anywhere is governed by World Rugby (WR), originally the International Rugby Football Board and later the International Rugby Board, which is based in Dublin, Ireland. It is the governing and law-making body for rugby globally. WR has over 100 member unions.

USA Rugby is the member union of the United States within WR. USA Rugby is responsible for overseeing rugby union domestically and training the various national teams that they put on the pitch.

The game of rugby started to see some form of growth in the United States in the 1960s. In 1975, the United States of America Rugby Football Union was formed. The US Union dates from 1975, and joined WR (then known as IRFB) in 1987.[3]

Within USA Rugby, there are several Geographical Unions (GU's) that are charged with governing a specific region of the country. Within these GU's, there are also Local Area Unions (LAU's), which are responsible for governing a specific region within their respective GU's.

Growing participation[edit]

More than 98,000 people are registered members of USA Rugby.[16] The numbers of registered rugby members are highest in California, New York and Pennsylvania. On a per-person basis, rugby membership is highest in New England and in the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado and Utah.[16]

There are 32,754 men and 11,790 women playing senior-level rugby.[17] Over 34,000 high school athletes (26,212 boys and 8,706 girls) play rugby for their schools or U19 clubs.[17] Over 2,200 pre-teens (1,988 boys and 228 girls) play organized rugby.[17] With over 20,000 registered females in USA Rugby, the U.S. has more female rugby players than any other country in the world.[18] There are 1,582 referees within USA Rugby.[17]

A 2010 survey by the National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association ranked rugby as the fastest growing sport in the U.S.[19] In 2014 the Sports and Fitness Industry Association reported rugby as the fastest growing team sport in the U.S. during the previous five years.[20] Rugby participation in the U.S. has grown significantly since 2000, growing by 350% between 2004 and 2011.[18] Between 2006 and 2011, the number of high-school rugby players in the U.S. increased by 84%, with 28,000 players in 650 high school programs.[21] By 2010, the number of registered players in the U.S. had grown to over 81,000, moving the U.S. ahead of traditional rugby powers Wales and Scotland in terms of playing numbers.[18]

Increasing popularity[edit]

Record rugby attendances in the U.S.
Attendance Category Event Date Ref
80,138 International tournament (7s) 2016 USA Sevens 2016-03-04 [22]
61,500 International match (15s) USA v. New Zealand 2014-11-01 [23]
27,224 College tournament (7s) 2016 CRC Sevens 2016-06-04 [24]
14,811 Professional club match (15s) 2016–17 English Premiership 2016-03-12 [25]
11,000 College match (15s) 2011 College Premier Division 2011-06-01 [26]

Rugby's profile in the U.S. has received a tremendous boost from the International Olympic Committee's announcement in 2009 that rugby would return to the Olympics in 2016. USA Rugby has formally become a member of the US Olympic Committee, allowing rugby players and programs access to Olympic resources.

Attendance at rugby matches and tournaments has grown significantly in recent years. Attendance for the USA Sevens tournament has grown steadily from 15,800 in 2004, to 52,000 fans at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas in 2011.[27] The 2011 College Premier Division national championship match between Cal and BYU drew a crowd of 11,000 at Rio Tinto Stadium.[28] A friendly match between the US and Ireland in 2009 drew 10,000 fans to Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara,[29] and a friendly match between the US and Italy in 2012 drew over 17,000 fans to BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.[30] This was followed by 20,000-strong crowds at BBVA Compass Stadium vs. Ireland in June 2013 and Scotland in June 2014; these records were smashed in November 2014 however when an historic sell-out crowd of 61,500 watched the match against New Zealand at Soldier Field; the match also drew an average TV audience of 927,000 on NBC.[31][32]

Another significant development in the history of U.S. rugby came at the 2015 London Sevens, the final tournament of the 2014–15 Sevens Series, when the US won its first-ever championship of a Sevens Series event.[33]

Rugby on TV[edit]

Rugby on TV
(Network and basic cable only)
Competition Network TV since
CRC Sevens NBC & NBCSN 2010
USA Sevens NBC & NBCSN 2011
Rugby World Cup NBC & NBCSN 2011
Varsity Cup NBCSN 2014
Americas Rugby Championship ESPN2 2016
English Premiership[34] NBCSN 2016

The announcement in 2009 that rugby in its rugby sevens format would by admitted into the 2016 Summer Olympics has meant increased TV exposure. Rugby came onto NBC's radar following the 2009 announcement.[35] NBC has begun broadcasting several rugby tournaments on network TV, particularly rugby sevens tournaments, considered a television friendly format.[36] NBC has shown the Collegiate Rugby Championship each year since 2010. NBC has also broadcast the USA Sevens tournament each year since 2011. Roughly 5.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2011 USA Sevens, helping increase awareness of the sport of rugby.[18][37] Viewership for the 2012 USA Sevens on NBC earned successful ratings (0.7), beating the ratings for an NHL match (0.4) and five college basketball games (0.1–0.3) played that same weekend.[38] The TV ratings on NBC for the USA Sevens and Collegiate Rugby Championships grew 14% from 2013 to 2014,[20] with the 2014 USA Sevens drawing ratings of 0.7 on Saturday and 1.0 on Sunday.[39]

NBC, along with its Universal Sports affiliate network, broadcast ten matches of the 2011 Rugby World Cup — three on NBC and seven on Universal — marking the first time the Rugby World Cup was broadcast live on TV in the U.S.[40] NBC broadcast a November 1, 2014 match between the United States and New Zealand, earning a 0.7 rating.[41] NBC and Universal Sports Network broadcast nine matches (two on NBC, seven on Universal) from the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.[42] NBCSN will show matches from the English Premiership beginning spring 2016.[34]

In addition, specialty cable channels have begun broadcasting an increasing amount of rugby. BeIN Sports shows the Pro12, European Rugby Champions Cup, and select international matches. Select international matches and European club matches are shown on WatchESPN.

Hosting the 2027 Rugby World Cup[edit]

The United States is considered a likely candidate to host a Rugby World Cup, due to the recent growth and future growth potential of rugby in the U.S., which has been recognized by World Rugby. In 2010, Mike Miller, at the time the CEO of what was then known as the IRB, stated that the U.S. would host a Rugby World Cup, stating that "it's a question of when, not if."[43] USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville revealed in November 2011 that the U.S. had been asked by the IRB to consider preparing a bid to host the Rugby World Cup, and that USA Rugby was considering bidding for the rights to host the 2023 or the 2027 Rugby World Cup.[44] When the U.S. was then awarded the right to host the 2012 IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy (a tournament now known as the World Rugby Under 20 Trophy), it was seen as the U.S. moving a step closer to hosting a Rugby World Cup.[45] Nigel Melville stated that hosting the 2012 IRB JWRT was "the first step to . . . hosting a Rugby World Cup."[45] IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset has acknowledged that "the USA is a very important and exciting market for Rugby."[45]

The United States has several features that would make it a successful host of the Rugby World Cup:

  1. The U.S. is the world's largest commercial market, with a larger GDP than any other country.
  2. The U.S. had 81,678 registered players as of 2010, 10th largest in the world.[46]
  3. The U.S. has enough stadiums to host a major tournament,[30] with over 100 stadiums with a capacity of 50,000 or larger, and 25 stadiums with a capacity of 80,000 or larger. Many (although not all) of these stadiums could be used for a Rugby World Cup.
  4. The Rugby World Cup has never been held in the Americas, so a U.S. hosted tournament would further WR's interest in globalizing the sport of rugby. The Americas is the only continent that has not been selected to host a Rugby World Cup.[47]
  5. The number of fans attending high-level rugby tournaments in the U.S. has been increasing. For example, the USA Sevens tournament held annually at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas drew over 60,000 fans in 2012, exceeding the number of fans attending WR 7s tournaments in traditional rugby countries such as South Africa, Australia, and Scotland. USA Rugby has also successfully staged other international rugby tournaments, such as the 2012 IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy.
  6. A U.S. hosted Rugby World Cup would likely receive a significant amount of international fans. The U.S. is a popular tourist destination, ranked #2 in international tourist arrivals and ranked #1 in international tourism receipts. Many major U.S. cities, such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia can be reached by non-stop flights from many major European cities.
  7. The U.S. has successfully hosted other major global sporting events, including the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the 1984 Summer Olympics and 1996 Summer Olympics, and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
  8. Rugby tournaments in the U.S. have landed commercial sponsorships from blue-chip companies, such as Toyota, Subway, Anheuser-Busch, Bridgestone and Geico.

Rugby and popular culture[edit]

Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton (left) and George W. Bush (right) played rugby while in college.

The popularity of rugby was given a minor boost when it was featured in the fourth season of Friends in the episode The One with all the rugby, broadcast February 26, 1998. Rugby was also featured prominently in the 2008 movie Forever Strong. Rugby was also prominent in the film The Departed, by virtue of being set in Boston's Irish community.

Two recent American presidents have played the sport:

  • Bill Clinton. Clinton developed an interest in rugby in England, playing at Oxford.[48] It has been claimed that he played at Little Rock RFC in Arkansas, but they deny this.[49] However, his interest was mainly casual, and he was on the third or fourth team. Clinton's position was lock.
  • George W. Bush. Bush was a keen player during high school and university, and was on Yale's 1st XV, and in 1968, he was part of their win over Harvard.[48][49] Bush's position was fullback.
  • John F. Kennedy: Kennedy played for Harvard's team, along with his brother Joseph.[50]

National team[edit]

USA vs. Tonga in the 2007 RWC.

The United States national rugby union team is nicknamed the Eagles. They played their first international in 1912, but did not begin playing regularly until 1976. The Eagles have qualified for six of the seven Rugby World Cups, including the most recent 2015 Rugby World Cup. The U.S. national team also hosts World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup matches every June, and generally tours against European teams each November.

The United States are currently a Tier-2 rugby nation. The U.S. has been consistently ranked as one of the top 20 teams in the world since the World Rugby Rankings were developed in 2003.[51]

International competitions[edit]

Rugby World Cup[edit]

The US national team has played in six of the seven Rugby World Cup tournaments held every four years since the inaugural 1987 tournament.

In the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup, the United States beat Japan in the pool stage. The 1991 Rugby World Cup saw invitations abolished in favor of a 32-team qualifying tournament that saw the United States successfully gain entry. They were in a pool with New Zealand, England and Italy – all strong rugby powers.

After missing out on the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, the national side qualified for the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Wales. They subsequently qualified for the 2003 Rugby World Cup, finishing fourth in their pool, winning one game against Japan.

The US came away from the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France without a win, but they had a 28–10 performance against England (defending 2003 champion). One of the high points for the team was the winger Takudzwa Ngwenya, who scored against South Africa by out-pacing Bryan Habana for a try,[52] earning "Try of the Year" honors at the IRB Awards. Other notable performances came from captain Mike Hercus (who led the team with 26 points in the tournament) and Todd Clever.

The USA played in the 2011 Rugby World Cup held in New Zealand, in a pool with Australia, Ireland, Italy, and first-time finalist Russia. The highlights included a 13–6 win against Russia, and a 22–10 loss against Ireland. Chris Wyles was the USA's leading scorer with 18 points.

Pacific Nations Cup[edit]

In 2006, WR (then the IRB) created the Pacific Nations Cup. The tournament is intended to strengthen the Tier 2 rugby nations by providing competitive test matches in a tournament format. For the first several years, it included only Oceanic nations, such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Japan. However, it was expanded in 2013 to include the United States and Canada.[53]

Americas Rugby Championship[edit]

In 2009, WR (then the IRB) launched a new competition, the Americas Rugby Championship, with four teams. The teams included a "USA Selects", effectively the United States "A" (second-level) side; a Canadian team; the Argentina Jaguars, an Argentine developmental side that has taken over the role of the country's "A" side; and an Uruguayan team. Since the competition was played between A-sides, the tournament matches were not official international test matches. The competition was held annually from 2009 through 2014, except in the World Cup year of 2011.

The competition was relaunched in 2016 as a Western Hemisphere equivalent to Europe's Six Nations Championship. The new format will involve the Argentina Jaguars and the full national teams of the USA, Brazil, Canada, Chile, and Uruguay. All matches in the tournament, including those against Argentina Jaguars, will be full international tests, and all will count in the World Rugby Rankings except those involving Argentina Jaguars.

The North America 4 was an elite-level IRB-financed tournament that ran from 2006 until 2008. The tournament was contested between four teams, two from the United States and two from Canada.

Domestic competitions (Division 1)[edit]

Super League (1997–2012)[edit]

The Rugby Super League was the national premier Division 1 rugby amateur club competition that ran from 1997 to 2012. The Super League was created in 1996 by the major territorial unions within USA Rugby with the intention of creating a competitive national competition. The inaugural season of the competition saw 14 teams divided into two seven-team divisions: the Western-Pacific Conference and the Midwestern-East Conference.

Aspen won the first championship. Belmont Shore was the most successful club, appearing in the finals every year from 2002 to 2008, until the club left the competition. San Francisco Golden Gate then led the league, appearing in the finals every year from 2009 to 2011.

The size of the league fluctuated over the years. The inclusion of some sub-par clubs and the exclusion of top-performing clubs was controversial issue since the inception of the Super League, called into question whether it was really USA's "premier" competition.

Following the demise of the Super League, USA Rugby formed the Elite Cup in 2013 among the top eight clubs from the previous season’s National Division I Club Championship.[54] The competition was divided into two pools of four teams: East, consisting of Boston, Life Running Eagles, New York Athletic Club, and Old Blue of New York; and West, consisting of Denver Barbarians, Glendale Raptors, San Francisco Golden Gate, and Seattle OPSB.[55] However, the competition lasted only one year, as three of the four western members affiliated with the Pacific Rugby Premiership.

Regional Premierships (2014–present)[edit]

In 2013, seven western clubs announced the formation of the Pacific Rugby Premiership, consisting of three teams from southern California, two from northern California, and two from Colorado.[56] The PRP is a Division 1 competition that began play in spring 2014. The season runs from February to May, with a 12-game regular-season schedule in which teams play each other team twice, culminating in a one-game championship match in May.[56] The teams competing are:

Pacific Rugby Premiership
Team Metro Area Founded
Olympic Club RFC San Francisco, CA 1908
Old Mission Beach A.C. San Diego, CA 1966
Denver Barbarians R.F.C. Denver, CO 1967
Santa Monica R.C. Los Angeles, CA 1972
Belmont Shore R.F.C. Los Angeles, CA 1974
San Francisco Golden Gate R.F.C. San Francisco, CA 2001
Glendale Raptors Denver, CO 2006

In July 2014, five eastern clubs announced the formation of the American Rugby Premiership, consisting of two teams from New York, two from Boston, and one from Atlanta.[57] The competition schedule involves eight matches played in a split season, with the first half of the season during September–October, a winter break, and the remaining half of the season in April–May, culminating in a challenge match between the champions of the Pacific and the Atlantic competitions.[57] In 2016, Mystic River Rugby Club became a full member of the ARP, replacing Life RFC in a reformatted competition. The teams competing are:

American Rugby Premiership
Team Metro Area Founded
Boston RFC Boston, MA 1960
Boston Irish Wolfhounds Boston, MA 1989
Life RFC Atlanta, GA 1980
Mystic River Boston, MA 1974
Old Blue RFC New York, NY 1963

In 2015 eight Midwestern clubs announced the formation of the Midwest Rugby Premiership, consisting of two teams from Chicago, two from Ohio (Cincinnati and Columbus), and one each from Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Davenport, IA. The MRP is a Division 1 competition that began play in fall of 2015. The season runs from September to May, with a 14-game regular-season schedule in which teams play each other twice, a playoff semi final, culminating in a one-game championship match in May. In November 2015, in conjunction with the Red River Premiership the Metropolis RFC, Kansas City RFC, Austin Blacks RFC and Dallas Reds RFC took part in the inaugural USA Rugby sanctioned first round of the Gold Cup. The teams competing are:

Midwest Rugby Premiership
Team Metro Area Founded
Chicago Lions RFC Chicago, IL 1964
Metropolis RFC Minneapolis, MN 1960
Kansas City Blues RFC Kansas City, MO 1966
Milwaukee Barbarians RFC Milwaukee, WIS 2012
Cincinnati Wolfhounds RFC Cincinnati, OH 1974
Chicago Griffins RFC Chicago, IL 1973
Palmer Chiropractic College RFC Davenport, IA 1960
Columbus RFC Columbus, OH 1975

Professional rugby (2016)[edit]

Main article: PRO Rugby

The development of a domestic professional rugby competition is seen as a key step in the growth of rugby in the United States.[58] USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville predicted in 2012 that professional rugby would come to the United States by 2015.[59] Melville was quoted in 2014 as saying "We can do it in two years, it will be city-driven and we will start with six [teams] and we will go from there."[58] U.S. national team assistant coach Justin Fitzpatrick said in 2015 that by 2016 the U.S. will have resolved to create a professional domestic rugby competition.[60]

Griffins Rugby, based in Dallas, announced its goal of becoming a professional rugby club. Jake Abbott became the first professional player to join Griffins from English club Worcester Warriors,[61] and by 2015 the club had signed four professional players.[62]

In November 2015, the Professional Rugby Organization (PRO Rugby) announced that it was launching a USA Rugby-sanctioned professional rugby competition in 2016. Teams play at medium-size venues, with a 12-match schedule from April to July.[63][64] The five teams in 2016 are Denver, Ohio, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco.

On December 21, 2016, the league announced that its investors has pulled funding and that league operations would be suspended indefinitely.

Rugby Sevens[edit]

The USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship is the top annual American rugby sevens competition organized by USA Rugby. The best sixteen clubs in the country participate each year.

College rugby[edit]

Main article: College rugby

Rugby union is played in universities throughout the United States. More than 1,000 colleges have rugby teams.[65] College rugby is the largest section of USA Rugby's membership. For the 2010-11 season, there were over 32,000 college members and 854 college clubs registered with USA Rugby,[66] roughly a 14% increase from 28,000 college members in August 2008.[67] College rugby continues to grow in popularity, and rugby is one of the fastest growing sports across college campuses.[65]

College rugby includes the National Collegiate Championship competition in fifteens rugby (since 1980). USA Rugby created a smaller Division 1-A competition in 2011 of roughly 30 schools with the intention of refining topflight collegiate rugby.[68] In 2013 a number of top rugby schools formed the Varsity Cup postseason tournament, leading to the perceived existence of two national championships. The Varsity Cup final has been broadcast live on NBC Sports every spring since 2014.

The 2009 announcement that rugby sevens would return to the Olympics in 2016 has led to an increased emphasis in the collegiate ranks on the sevens game, and increasing interest from TV and other media. The highest profile collegiate 7s competition is the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC), which is held in June of every year at Talen Energy Stadium in suburban Philadelphia and is televised live by NBC. USA Rugby also operates a college sevens national championship, the USA Rugby Sevens Collegiate National Championships.

Outstanding college rugby players are recognized as All-Americans by USA Rugby.[69] Qualified All-Americans can represent the United States in international tournaments by playing on the United States national under-20 rugby union team.

High school[edit]

Rugby union has been growing in the United States at the high school level:

Rugby participation numbers
Season Schools Participants Ref
2008–09 15 779 [70]
2014–15 31 1,599 [71]

Rugby will become the 35th sport of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) in 2016, following a 2015 MIAA vote that passed by a wide majority.[72] As of 2015, there are 19 boys’ teams and 5 girls’ teams in Massachusetts, with the majority of the Catholic Conference schools fielding rugby teams.[72]

Regional bodies[edit]

A list of the Geographical Unions (GU's) and their respective Local Area Unions are as follows:

Governing unions rugby union in the United States
Geographical Unions Local area unions
Capital Geographical Union
Washington D.C.
Carolinas Geographical Union
North Carolina RFU
South Carolina
Empire Geographical Union
New York
Northern New Jersey
Southern Connecticut
Eastern Penn Geographical Union
Eastern and Central Pennsylvania
Southern New Jersey
Florida Rugby Union
Mid-America Geographical Union
Missouri RFU
Northwest Arkansas
South Dakota
New England Rugby Football Union
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Northern California Rugby Football Union
Northern California
North and Central Nevada
Pacific Northwest Geographical Union
Southern California Rugby Football Union
Arizona Rugby Union
New Mexico
Southern California
Texas Geographical Union
Central and Northwest Arkansas
North and Central Louisiana
True South Geographical Union
Deep South RFU
MidSouth RFU
Independent Allegheny Rugby Union
Chicago Area RFU
Georgia Rugby Union
Hawaii Rugby Football Union
Michigan Rugby Football Union
Minnesota Rugby Football Union
Wisconsin Rugby Football Union

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]